Why Are We Embracing Tohu Va’vohu?

Originally published on The Jewish Press, November 8, 2019.

We have no boundaries anymore. 

Life used to be a bit simpler. A man was a man, a woman was a woman, and they would marry, procreate, and pass on. Then the same cycle would repeat itself, over and over again, in much the same way. 

Over time, perhaps the last hundred years or so, people have been tearing down the appropriate barriers between men and women, leading to a loss of respect for others and respect for oneself. Affairs run rampant, and women and men alike feel comfortable flirting or being suggestive with others’ spouses.

Today, we see an even more drastic shift in mainstream culture: procreation is delayed or completely cancelled, gender is fluid, and marriage is no longer exclusive to a man and a woman. What should be private is public, vulnerability on full display on social media. Women, screaming for liberation, walk around with their tops off and then wonder why they’re ogled or groped. 

We have rather quickly transitioned into a society that, at least as it pertains to the language of the PC culture, smacks of Orwell’s famed dystopia in 1984. And language is usually the first part of a society to be poisoned before the rest follows. In Orwell’s seminal work, we learn that society is one where there is no pronounced distinction between males and females, and:

War is peace

Freedom is slavery

And ignorance is strength

Our modern equivalent is, perhaps, something like this:

Evil is good

Ungodliness is sacred

Virtue is sin

In a society in which words are destroyed of their meaning and new ones are forced in their place; a society in which gender is a mere social construct and children are fair game for normalized abuse and murder, we have opened the great cosmic can of worms and realize, to our dismay, that we have reintroduced tohu va’vohu to the world. Tohu va’vohu, that initial formless void, a kind of chaos we could never fathom, which existed before creation. In essence, we have rejected the act of creation by embracing a deceased reality: the reality before the distinction of contrasts, before the drawing of the boundary lines, when God created a human as a male and a female,* when the heavens and earth had no distinction, and there was no light. 

And we are rejecting the act of creation even in our very own selves, treating the murder of fetuses in the womb as though it’s nothing. We are treating our own wombs, pregnant with the ripening fruit of human life, as a formless void, devoid of meaning or substance. We are conveniently hitting the “delete” key on our mistakes, turning the other cheek to our own perversions.

Two weeks ago, the Parshat Hashavuah was Bereshit, the first few chapters of the Torah. The first story of the Torah is this:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void* (tohu va’vohu), with darkness over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.”

Genesis 1:1-4

The first act of creation, the first story God wants to tell in the Torah, is one of boundary lines. So what does this mean? That without boundaries, without distinctions between light and dark, heavens and earth, man and woman, we are in chaos. Tohu va’vohu. 

These days, it is common to see the proper boundary lines being dissolved. We are throwing away the very first lines in Bereshit, the very first concept God wishes to share with the world. The concept that, whatever we may think, there ARE clear distinctions between males and females (“male and female he created them…”). That there are rules for this world, for the way we conduct ourselves.

And the fact of the matter is, when you are pushing away truth with both hands, it will come back to bite you – hard. Fleeing from reality can only take you so far before the wake up call will hit you with more force than a bullet train in Japan. We will reap what we sow, and if we sow in chaos, we will reap chaos. We have upturned seemingly old and irrelevant conventions, exposed what should be private, and flaunted our new immorality with all the fervor of a child who has finally gotten his way. And, like that child who will later learn his lesson, we will learn ours. But the tohu va’vohu we will have introduced will leave its mark until we learn to redraw the boundary lines. 

And when we finally learn to redraw those boundary lines, to renew the act of creation – to truly become partners in creation – God will create a new heaven and a new earth. And this will be the new Gan Eden, but on a higher dimension. 

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the first ones shall not be remembered, neither shall they come into mind.” 

Isaiah 65:17

We have renewed this cycle of tohu va’vohu, which leads to a new creation, a new dimension. Each generation, as we strive for higher levels, we are reaching ever closer to the original state of reality. At present, we are in the penultimate state, and fast approaching the ultimate. 

Now, we wait for God once again to say:

“In the beginning…”

*- In other places, “tohu va’vohu” is translated as: astonishingly empty

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